Paracuellos is a stunning achievement – a book of humor on the surface covering the true pathos and heartbreak underneath. The drawing style feels like something out of a vintage Mad Magazine but gives us a story of deprivation and hardship from the point of view of orphans during Franco era (1960s) Spain. Told at a dangerous time (1970s) when the author could have been put to death for what he was (almost) saying, the comics are a work of genius and subtlety, telling the tale through humor and gentle observations. It’s a rare work that makes the reader both laugh and cry at the same time. And it is important historical reading as well.
The comics were originally published weekly in a magazine in the format of many small panels covering a full page. Although the panels are small, the art is clean and easy to follow, for the most part. Each panel tells a bit of the story of the orphans but mostly follows the author himself as a child in that situation. Almost every page has a humorous view of the situation but it is very easy to read between the lines to understand what was really happening to these despised children at the time.
The work here is truly exceptional. It’s also startling – almost heartbreaking to see the spin the kids put on their situations in order to survive. Paracuellos is a graphic novel that you cannot read and be unaffected; yet it isn’t so heavy as to cast a pall of pervasive depression, either. Carlos Gimenez truly was a genius at his craft and we have much to be thankful for that he channeled his memoirs through this inimitable illustrative format. Highest recommendations. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.